MUNCIE, Ind. — Don Talley leads a busy life, helping to run a food pantry, making deliveries every week and chasing around three grandchildren. As a retired veteran, his service to others — and to his company, Carter Express — is what led him to be named one of the two 2021 Citizen Drivers, awarded by TravelCenters of America.
Talley didn’t go into his trucking career headfirst. Instead, it started with some hesitancy and stepping stones. His introduction started while he was overseas for the U.S. Army, when he found that he didn’t particularly like to walk.
“So, I drove,” Talley said. “I learned how to drive a bus overseas, took a test and I was a master bus driver in Europe.”
Soon, his love for driving became beneficial to his fellow military members. He’d drive his friends to concerts or Oktoberfest, or as a drill sergeant, he’d drive a cattle car to move troops back and forth.
“I just wanted to keep everybody safe,” he said. “You don’t want anyone drunk-driving on the highway. I just always wanted to help out, and I always did like driving.”
His interest in driving was tested while he was stationed in Saudi Arabia for the Army, where they were using trucking brigades. He had a decision to make — learn how to drive a truck, or shy away from it. Talley isn’t the kind to back down from new skills.
“I told myself I could do it,” Talley said.
Once he mastered truck driving, he started training others to drive. Although he was unsure where his road would lead after returning from his Army service, his teaching spirit carried over into over-the-road truck driving in the U.S.
“I got back (to the U.S.), and at first I didn’t want to be gone all the time,” he said. “But when I was a tour bus driver, I knew a guy and he says, ‘Hey, Carter is hiring, and you’d be home every week.’ So that’s what got me to where I’m at.”
Talley believes he has landed in a good spot. He’s spent 17 of his 18 years as an over-the-road truck driver training others how to be better drivers. Recently, he decided it was best to refrain from being a full-time trainer, as he wanted to focus on his true love of trucking.
“But I still help everybody if they need it,” he said. “If they have someone who needs a little extra help, I give them my expertise or my ideas on how to get to be a better driver.”
Talley, who is primarily motivated by a spirit of helping, said he wants to “pay back” Carter Express, a company he says has been good to him.
“It’s a good company that will listen to me and take my ideas, and they’re helping other people,” he said. “I’m a Christian. I just want somebody to be the best person they can be if I (get the chance) to help them. If I can make them better by talking to them, giving them some food, training, giving them a ride, whatever, I want to do that.”
That means fostering his love of learning new things. Growing up, Talley’s parents owned a gas station, and that was where he learned how to work on cars. Later, he got a college degree in building construction.
“When I was in the military, I always learned somebody else’s job. You never know, when you need that person, he or she might be gone, and you might have to step in that position. You made yourself more reliable. You never get fired that way,” he said laughing.
His reliability in the military led him to earning several medals and awards. Talley served from 1974 to 1994 and received a Bronze Star along with other high honors, such as a Purple Heart for rescuing lives after a truck caught fire, and a Soldier’s Medal for risking his life to save a woman who was pinned to the side of a cliff in 1982.
His extraordinary service and reliability have always been part of his character, and he has not given this trait up. Every Sunday, he helps his wife, Becky at their church’s food pantry. He’ll bring boxes for her to use, clean the pantry and prepare food. Occasionally the Talleys will make food deliveries together, or provide transportation for those who need it.
When their oldest daughter, Lori, died prematurely, the Talleys turned the tragic incident into a benefit for others. The two started a golf tournament with a scholarship attached to it to donate to her high school.
“My whole family was helping to do that,” he said. “We’d always cook good meals for the golfers, and I went out to get door prizes.”
It was also a way for Talley to cope. Don had never really picked up on golf until his daughter died, and he never let it go. Although he stopped holding the golf tournament 10 years ago, he’s been playing for 30 years.
Other than truck driving and playing golf, he enjoys spending time with his other daughter, Lisa, and his grandchildren, who wrestle, and play softball and volleyball.
“I’m really proud of my grandkids and everything they do,” he said. “They’re smart kids, they’re polite kids and they call me Papa.”
They warm his heart, just as lending a helping hand warms his heart.
Hannah Butler is a lover of interesting people, places, photos and the written word. Butler is a former community newspaper reporter and editor for Arkansas Tech University’s student newspaper. Butler is currently finishing up her undergraduate print journalism degree and hopes to pursue higher education. Her work has been featured in at least nine different publications.